Hint: You’re probably working in one right now.
This is the first post in our three-part Hybrid Workplace Series. Through this series, we’ll take a look at just what exactly the hybrid workplace is, why it’s important, components for building an effective hybrid workplace that supports your employees, and how the changing office landscape will affect and shape workplace collaboration moving forward.
If you’ve been following Mersive’s content or keeping up with news about the future of work, you’ve likely seen plenty of references to the “hybrid workplace” or “hybrid office”. Taken at face value these terms simply provide a convenient way to describe an organization with both in-office and remote workers – but this certainly isn’t a new concept – many organizations have offered varying work from home options for employees for quite some time. But never before was this to an extent that was worth mentioning, worth naming.
Where the pre-pandemic remote/in-office split may have been 20/80, the pandemic quickly flipped these numbers, changing to an 80/20 or even 90/10 split. With this rise in the proportion of work from home came the rise of the term ‘hybrid workplace’ – and its importance in the quickly evolving workplace landscape. What will the post-pandemic split look like? 60/40? 50/50? What will be the implications of this tremendous shift? How will the needs of the workplace change?
Setting the Stage for the Hybrid Workplace
When the pandemic sent most knowledge workers home nearly overnight last March, there were certain but surmountable challenges in the transition to our new work-from-home lives. Depending upon roles, there were equipment and technology considerations that needed to be sorted out, testing protocols and processes to be tweaked, and specific logistical issues that individual teams grappled with to support their workflows in our new remote status. Culture, communication, and relationships all needed to be ported to the WFH world. Technologies such as Zoom, Slack, and Google Docs had largely paved the way for us to accomplish many of our daily functions from home. In some cases even more effectively than being in the office.
Conversely, after almost a year of working primarily from home, for some – the cracks in the paint are beginning to show. The current technology supporting WFH is only effective to a degree. Our remote workstations are ill-suited for the collaboration, office culture, and spontaneous interactions that are fostered through face-to-face time in the office. And while working remotely may be productive for some, not everyone has an effective environment to work from home, retaining the office’s continued role as an important place for individual work, as well.
A recent workplace survey from Gensler found that, for a variety of reasons, the majority of U.S. workers prefer a hybrid solution that includes a combination of time in the office and work from home. Through both necessity and newly developed work from home norms, the pandemic has accelerated the need for workplaces and technology that can support workers no matter where they are working from. This need will continue well beyond the pandemic and be a central focus in how the workplace is shaped into the future. Enter the star of the pandemic and post-pandemic world: the hybrid workplace.
What is a Hybrid Workplace?
A hybrid workplace, or hybrid office, is a flexible workplace model that is designed to support a distributed workforce of both in-office and remote workers.
This definition is succinct but powerful. The hybrid workplace model provides workers with the flexibility to work wherever they are most productive: in the office, from a remote location (most notably work from home), or a combination of the two. Beyond the key criteria of a mix of in-office and remote workers, the most important pillars of a hybrid workplace are flexibility and support.
Today’s hybrid workplace has three very important distinctions from the hybrid or ad hoc remote work of the past:
- Days in the office vs. remote are not (necessarily) scheduled in advance.
- The balance of in-office vs. remote employees has shifted. There is a far greater percentage of the office working remotely in a hybrid workplace as a standard, not an exception.
- This shift in in-office vs. remote employees is not static, but fluid, shifting in real time.
The pandemic and post-pandemic era hybrid workplace will be much more flexible than the workplace of the past. Working from home will likely remain the norm for many, with the decision to go into the office or not made on a much more ad hoc basis or as a game-time decision. “I was thinking about going in today, but now my parents are visiting next week, so I’ll work from home just to be on the safe side.”
It’s important to point out that many offices have always been hybrid, but as we emerge from the pandemic, the mix/balance of in-office and remote workers will be very different. In addition to a greater number of remote workers in general, the shift between in-office and remote workers will be very fluid, constantly changing. If the remote/in-office split was always 50/50 or 75/25, this would be easier to plan for. It’s the constant movement that will make office planning a challenge. This will have a big impact that workplaces and room technology will need to support.
Key to this evolving trend will be the movement back and forth between the office and the home office. How do organizations optimize their spaces? And when? Is the office purely for synchronous collaboration and the home an asynchronous domain? It’s a very complex continuum and is dependent on both personality and role – both in terms of function and responsibility. The key for AV and IT when it comes to technology and real estate will be flexibility and transparency as to who is where and when.
Providing workers with the flexibility to work wherever (and whenever) they choose – whether that be for productivity, convenience, health concerns, or other reasons – places responsibility on the organization to create a work environment that supports both in-office and remote workers. This includes flexible workplace design and technology solutions that equally equip all workers for effective collaboration (more on this in part 2 of our series).
For many of us that work in offices, whether we’ve thought about it or not, we’re already working in a hybrid workplace. And while at first this seemed to be a novelty of the pandemic, over time it has become increasingly clear that the hybrid workplace will not be a passing whim. It is here to stay in ways that are more extensive than in the past.
Hybrid Workplace Models
In terms of actual implementation, the definition of the hybrid workplace model is intentionally vague. The pandemic has brought an unending variety of workplace plans from 100% remote to staggered in-office scheduling to request processes for limited numbers of in-office employees on any given day. Even when the pandemic subsides (when will then be now?) offices are likely to continue workplace planning and practices that revolve around some form of hybrid workplace model.
One workweek schedule that is floating around hybrid workplace discussions is the transition of the 9-to-5 to the 3-2-2, allowing workers three days at home, two days in the office, and two days off. This could also be three days in the office and two days working from home, but the idea remains the same. Both businesses and their workers are looking to strike the right balance between the collaboration, organizational culture, and social energy experienced in the office, and (for some) the convenience and individual productivity of working from home. Individual workers will have their own preferences on what type of schedule and work location will work best for them.
Some offices may also extend flexibility to not only where employees work but when they work, allowing for a certain amount of flexibility in work hours. Others may offer flexible workplace options, but ask employees to stick to traditional office hours.
While the implementation of hybrid workplace models will look different from organization to organization, the core focus on workplace flexibility and support for all workers regardless of location remains the cornerstone of an effective hybrid workplace.
The Office as a Collaboration Space
Over the course of the last year, organizations and workers have rethought the nature of work, meetings, collaboration, and productivity. While we were forced into making all of these things work remotely – and have been quite successful doing it – it is clear that some types of work are better done in person. While the accounting team may function perfectly through asynchronous communication, the marketing team may rely more heavily on the type of synchronous communication that is best facilitated through in-person collaboration.
Organizations and workers alike have discovered that a great deal of individual work can be accomplished at home – for some, perhaps even more effectively than in the office. Meanwhile, many meetings, team brainstorming sessions, and other collaborative tasks are a bit lackluster – and far less productive – through video conference. How will this affect the workplace?
The hybrid workplace model and other changes in the office landscape (stay tuned for part 3 of this series) will not only impact where we work, but the shape and design of the office itself. How we think of the workplace.
To best support the hybrid workplace, offices will become more collaboration focused, naturally morphing into centers for collaboration and shedding much of the space for individual workspaces in favor of a variety of meeting and collaboration spaces designed to accommodate varying meeting sizes and team members who are in the room, joining from an overflow space, or participating remotely.
This isn’t to say the office will completely shed individual work stations. On the contrary, there will still be a need to support workers that prefer to work from the office, for any number of reasons. Some workers’ homes don’t support effective individual work – whether because there are small children or roommates at home, bandwidth or space constraints, or any number of other reasons they may feel more comfortable and productive working from the office. While much of the space in offices may be dedicated to collaboration, smart solutions such as hotel desks that can be booked for the day will allow organizations to reduce their individual work station footprint, while still providing support for those who work in-office full time or on an ad-hoc basis.
Both organizations and workers have seen the benefits and drawbacks of remote work. It will be important to assess this information as we develop our hybrid workplaces and envision and design how offices will best serve workers moving forward.
Does Your Hybrid Workplace Support Your Workers?
The hybrid workplace has become more important now than ever before because the new era of mixed in-office and remote work has a very different structure than the any hybrid or remote work arrangements of the past. Ad hoc remote work policies no longer cut it in the pandemic and post-pandemic world. As the office becomes more dispersed, organizations are rethinking how they can best develop and thrive in this new, more dynamic workplace environment.
Regardless of what constitutes “the office”, the most important question is how well your workplace is supporting your workers. Is your hybrid workplace supporting the needs of all of your employees? Are they as engaged and integrated into the workplace and their role from home as they are in the office? Do they have the meeting spaces and collaboration tools they need to be successful in the office? And at home? This is the goal for effective hybrid workplaces.
So how do organizations build a hybrid workplace that is flexible yet effective? A workplace that embraces personal choice and safety but allows for engaging collaboration – no matter where their workers are? We’ll explore this in our upcoming posts.
Next up in our 3-part series:
- Tips to create an effective hybrid workplace
- How decentralization of the office will reshape workplace collaboration